2CUL To Examine Libraries’ Role in Supporting Humanities Ph.D. Students

Partnerships between Libraries, Graduate Schools and Writing Centers Could Help Graduation Rates

ITHACA, N.Y. (Feb. 23, 2010) – Can libraries help doctoral students in the humanities finish their degrees?

A collaborative study between the libraries at Cornell University and Columbia University — two leading research libraries that make up the 2CUL partnership — aims to discover if the library can help ameliorate high attrition and low completion rates for doctoral students in the humanities.

“We know libraries play a major role in graduate students’ lives, and we want to build on that connection to create the right kind of help that comes at exactly the right time in their careers,” said Anne R. Kenney, Carl A. Kroch University Librarian at Cornell. “The goal of this project is to listen to graduate students’ concerns and determine whether the library can develop strategies that will help directly with their research and contribute to their success.”

Grants from the Council on Library and Information Resources and the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation will support a user needs assessment to determine what academic libraries can do to help humanities doctoral students complete their degrees. Both 2CUL libraries, which participate in a partnership that could become the most expansive collaboration to date between two major research libraries, are contributing to this effort.

Cornell’s Graduate School and Columbia’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences are providing additional support. Support from Cornell's Graduate School comes from a grant from the Council of Graduate Schools for its CGS Ph.D. Completion Project.

The pilot project will involve focus groups with Cornell and Columbia’s humanities students in all stages of their PhD work, as well as recent graduates. Interviewers will then develop a questionnaire based on information from the focus groups and administer it to 20 to 25 students in three or four departments at each institution. 

After the analysis period, the institutions will recommend a course of action to address the findings. Possible steps forward would include partnerships with the graduate schools, writing centers and other campus entities at both institutions. Assessment will be completed by March 2011.

Humanities students have longer mean times to completing their PhDs than students in any other discipline and, according to a recent National Science Foundation study, those times are increasing. In 2003, the average humanities student took nine years to graduate, up from 7.5 years in 1978. Another study shows that humanities students’ 49-percent completion rate within a 10-year period is considerably lower than the rates of their peers in mathematics and physical sciences (55 percent), social sciences (56 percent), life sciences (63 percent) and engineering (64 percent).

“It’s well documented in empirical studies that PhD students in the humanities have a more difficult time than their colleagues in the sciences and social sciences,” said Kornelia Tancheva, director of Olin and Uris libraries at Cornell and a co-principal investigator on the grant. “Many factors — advising, financial aid, family life, community, job prospects — have been shown to contribute to this, and we want to examine the role the library might play in supporting their work.”

 “It is important for academic research libraries to understand how library services might impact graduate student success in terms of degree completion and time to completion,” said Damon Jaggars, Columbia’s associate university librarian for collections and services and co-principal investigator on the study. “The results of this study could inform the design of more responsive and effective research support services for humanities graduate students — a core user group for research libraries like those at Columbia and Cornell.” 

About Cornell University Library 
Cornell University is an Ivy League institution and New York's land-grant university. Among the top ten academic research libraries in the country, Cornell University Library reflects the university's distinctive mix of eminent scholarship and democratic ideals. The Library offers cutting-edge programs and facilities, a full spectrum of services, extensive collections that represent the depth and breadth of the university, and a deep network of digital resources. Its impact reaches beyond campus boundaries with initiatives that extend the land grant mission to a global focus. To learn more, visit <http://library.cornell.edu>.             

About Columbia University Libraries/Information Services
Columbia University Libraries/Information Services is one of the top five academic research library systems in North America. The collections include over 10 million volumes, over 100,000 journals and serials, as well as extensive electronic resources, manuscripts, rare books, microforms, maps, graphic and audio-visual materials. The services and collections are organized into 22 libraries and various academic technology centers. The Libraries employs more than 550 professional and support staff. The website of the Libraries atwww.columbia.edu/cu/lweb is the gateway to its services and resources.